The Los Angeles Clippers, who dismissed the rival Lakers to open the season and look dominant with reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard at the helm of the operation, are a week away from gaining strength.
Days after ramping up his practice workload over the weekend, injured six-time All-Star Paul George is still targeting the middle of next week for his return to game action, The Athletic’s Sam Amick reported. The Clips are reportedly planning for George to debut on the road against either the Houston Rockets on Nov. 13 or the New Orleans Pelicans the following night, resting on one end of that back-to-back.
George underwent surgeries to both of his shoulders this past spring, repairing a partial tendon tear in his right shoulder in May and partial labrum tear in his left shoulder in June. The mid-November return would fall in line with both the 10-game absence Clippers coach Doc Rivers referenced in the preseason and the three-week timeline Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes laid out for George after the season opener.
This is all welcome news for the Clippers, because it suggests George has not suffered any setbacks on his road to recovery. It is unwelcome news for the rest of the NBA, because the Clippers are adding another one of the league’s top two-way talents to a lineup that already ranks among its most versatile.
Lest we remind you that George finished higher in MVP voting than Leonard last regular season. Immediately upon his return, George may not be the same player who last season averaged a highly efficient 28 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and a league-high 2.2 steals per game for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Still, his skillset addresses the few Clippers weaknesses, and there is ample time for George to play his way back to being an elite 3-and-D wing before their title hunt begins in earnest.
The Clippers plan to rest Leonard for their marquee matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, a week after load management kept him from their loss to the Utah Jazz. There is little reason to believe that trend will not continue throughout the regular season, and you know who could help in his absence? One of the game’s best small forwards not named Kawhi.
Leonard can return the favor as George eases his way back into the schedule’s rigors, and when the two are in the lineup together — oh, boy. Leonard and George are maybe the two superstars most capable of impacting games without dominating the ball, and they have both also demonstrated the ability to run the offense for a contender alone. It would be difficult to design two players better suited for each other.
Add to that their fit on this roster. Rivers can surround either Leonard or George with lineups full of long-armed guards and forwards who can both shoot and defend, and then the coach can amplify the volume by playing both of his superstars together. Depending on what the game demands, the Clippers can dial up either the offense or defense by playing either Lou Williams or Patrick Beverley at the point.
Leonard, George and Williams can all ably run the offense through one of the NBA’s premier roll men, Montrezl Harrell. Or Leonard, George and Beverley can strangle the perimeter such that the absence of any true center beyond Ivica Zubac is no longer an issue. Everything is on the table starting next week.
The Clips already operate at levels that would lead the league in offensive efficiency and rank second on defense when Leonard is on the floor, and they are adding a guy who did the same for OKC last season.
Overall, the Clippers own the NBA’s third-ranked offense and 16th-ranked defense, and George is a considerable upgrade on both ends over able fill-ins Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green and Mo Harkless. He also limits the reliance on Williams’ offense to the detriment of their defense. If and when George approaches full strength, he and Leonard will wreak 48 minutes of hell on their opponents.
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